August 21 & Other Poems

1.
The Man in White

The long haul
from Boston to Manila
took only a second
in his mind:
a formation
of military guards
was on hand
to quicken
his arrival.
O he finally knew
he was home.
He expected the rude
welcome anyhow,
but not before
the phalanx of microphones
could be set up…
The guy at the Palace
must have been antsy,
spending sleepless nights
when he boarded
his flight.
But a shot from behind
sent him reeling
into the dark.
Earlier,
he had qualms
his heart bypass
left him only
a few years
to confront the guy
& a nation
that had been torn out
of his heart.
He shocked everyone,
all right
including himself
perhaps.

2.
The Assassin: Aug 21
A.

He’s no lover.
For such an audacious
enterprise
he won’t operate alone.
He must have a back-up
for the fateful act.
No one, after all,
is James Bond.
There are shadows lurking
behind
to serve as camouflage:
Sure he’s got the skills
a cut above
the common gunwielder –
that’s SOP
but he cannot have
the range of options
if monitors
don’t deliver.
To pull the trigger
is easy
child’s play.
But to slip out of the scene
undetected,
almost incognito
while thousands of eyes
are glued on his snarl
like a jaguar’s
is no magical tale.
He needs
fall guys
who could take the heat off
this dangerous affair.

B.

When the guy in white
got hit,
he knew he would
make a clean get-away:
witnesses could be terrorized
like dummies
who could be taken for a ride:
They’ve got to thank family
for the killing
to be shut out from memory.
Sure, they’ll rot in jail.
But that’s heroic tack.
They would die anyway
behind lacquered disks
in military barracks.
Future could be taken
cared of:
This is the brotherly promise.
No one could talk
but point to other direction.
Silence is most precious.
The assassin is safe,
secure.
Like the President-dictator.

C.

The court had illusion
logic rules –
& the murder
could be undone
by reason’s permutation.
Yet fools
are made to hit the wall:
there was blood
all right,
but there was no crime.
They couldn’t decide
if the guys in prison garb
had been truly weighed
& judged.
Who knows the conductor
behind the concerto?
O Sentiments prove
more powerful
than the truth of generals.
Who’s lying?
Who’s feeling?
Who stands in the shadow
like a magician
gloating over
the abracadabra flap.

D.

He doesn’t give
the orphans a damn:
he’s a pro
& can’t play
the game of emotions.
He sees only
a slice of the view,
the bigger share
is for wily politicians.
Besides,
it’s mere clerical act:
like factotums
typing clearance papers;
gofers doing the rounds
of bureaucratic gods;
pipe fitters
fixing leaking pipes;
mechanics troubleshooting
clunkers
& Palace courtiers
luring the deaf & blind
into spidery lair…
His job is to deliver
the golden bullet
into the heart
of the miscreant
whom think-tankers
consider monkey wrench
to governance…
He’s also a gardener
clearing the path
of weeds & grass.

E.

Sure, there are assassins
posted like gumshoes
everywhere
in whatever turf –
they are cheap
or come with high price tag
to liquidate petty thugs,
pesky activists,
even kotong cops…
But there are distinctions
in his trade.
He’s in charge
of projects
primed to eliminate
humongous targets.
The stakes are high,
they say.
But this is just
a simple matter:
Have guts,
will pull the trigger.
It is like sex.
He provides
the necessary high
for the silent few
who habitually itch.
He’s a pro.
Almost like a pimp,
giving that kind of service
minus the state glitch.

F.

The country,
you say,
is plunged in turmoil?
That’s not my game.
Am just a small fry
meant to subtly terrify
troublemakers
out to destabilize
those who cross the line.
Who cares
if I stir the hornet’s nest?
Money flows
as in a faucet.
Isn’t that what
high-end executives
secretly wish?
It’s a two-way street:
they need my
surgical service;
I need to upgrade
my career
in the hierarchy
of fancy bullshit.

G.

They’re still asking,
after all these years,
who shot Ninoy?
& Olalia, et cetera…
If the court of wise men
can’t put behind bars
those bigtime mafiosi:
whose fault is it?
They’ve kept the secret
under lid
for so long now
people have turned idiotic.
& they’re guys
so reverentially learned?
Am just a street guy
enamoured
with comic books
& floozies.
Ha-ha!
They can’t find me
even if I were a cookie
in a glass jar!

H.

& so it goes –
there is blood
on the tarmac,
yet I am scot-free, out.
Did they convict
the wrong guys?
I think therefore
I am
worth the price
of admission
to the Hall
of National Artists
for performing
such exquisite expertise.
After all,
thousands
to this day
have failed to unveil
the magical tricks
that left me undetected.
Houdini to a fault,
who unlocked
& survived
the iron vault.
Exemplum no less
of an art & craftsmanship
that tower over all
smug writers & poets!

I.

Who reaps
the fruits
of my destructive move?
Tycoons & generals
owe me a cartload.
This year,
I expect to be outsourced,
my cunning & guts
to keep lily-white
the vestment of integrity
& state craft.
They don’t have to think twice
to proscribe
the canker in the wood:
commies & priests,
do-gooders & ideologues
should never set foot
in Palace Hall.

J.

Briefly,
am just your kid next door.
My needs are simple, small:
a car, a home,
pension for kids & missus
& a life left alone
by intrusive wolves.
Is that too much to ask
of those who strut
in the legislature?
Take me for what I am:
in a complex world
my trade is just
as pernicious
as any sonomagun
raking in millions
in their executive suits
& letting children
die on the road.
I only hit a choice of bums
for Machiavellian reason.
Is there any objection?

K.

Here I am
in a huge glass jar.
Outsiders
keep looking at me
as if I were
like any fish
in a bowl.
I ogle them in return
but I am invisible.
Have never had such fortune
sizing them up
with their eyeglasses on,
as if they could see
what they purport
to be a measure
of my species.
But I am like them,
my imaged mirror,
who turn the world
upside down.
They do me no harm:
in their own pettyfogging
ways,
they are small-time
thieves & murderers
who see
their own sharkness
in my huge glass jar.

3.
B-day: Aug 22

The days
have been long & rough,
& the pathway
one crawls on
is bloodied by Lorca’s moon.
How was it
from the start?
Calm, at times troubled?
Also on bumpy ride
that limps & glides
with pain & joy.
Always, the ways of the gods
are inscrutably mad.
Meanings & non-meanings,
semaphores of order & chaos,
turn like tropic mud.
Will today
be the Passover of good luck?
Chinese horoscope
may yet mercifully pass
for a change
if one crosses one’s fingers
that demons & ghosts
are justly flogged.
May the wine of age
be smooth & cool,
like Vladimir Nabokov’s
sparkling prose.

4.
Fable
A.

In this dark land,
no one talks.
Lips are sealed,
as if stitched up
like falcon’s eyes
trained to heed
the master’s voice.
Where monkeys
speak, hear, see
no evil
in the acid site.
But a murderous ghost
roams
the city & countryside…
& strangers whisper
to each other
about crimes multiplied
but always archived.
The sergeant’s blue book
bears empty pages
& criminals enter & leave
the warden’s premises.
Here, constitution
is written & read,
but the judge pronounces
always the legal verdict:
show proof
or forever hold your peace.

B.
Country of Id

Years ago,
a clutch of acolytes
forayed into the forest,
emboldened like missionaries,
knapsacks on their backs
laden with tools of the faith:
Also papers,
ribbons,
pentel pens
& pamphlets…
Plus smiles on their faces.
Week after week
they merrily communed
with natives
of disease-ridden skin
who laughed back
as if they had witnessed
a carnival of misfits…
It dawned on the priestly crew
to shift paradigm & engage
the language of natures & spirit…
Thereafter some turned guns
for hire,
a few opted for the electoral,
a number joined the ranks
of warriors at camp fire…
Que sera, sera…
Were the innocent horrified?
Whatever Freire texts
about nihilist & dialogic peace,
power ever smokes
at the end of the barrel
in the country of id.

5.
Coda

They pause a bit
in between swigs:
yes, yes,
in a drunken drawl,
it was terrible
the way they did him in.
As if reliving
the passion of Christ
in Gethsemane
& star-crossed hill…
& they will shift
talk as if burned
by the scene
that wasn’t entertaining.
True,
there were guys before
who called attention
to the canker
in the wood,
but he caught
everyone’s eyes
with his maverick style.
It wasn’t a shoot-out
at OK-corral,
they seethe.
It was one against
a wild bunch of bums
& he was unarmed!
But he did set
into motion
the game
most idiots play
these days:
It is I, dearie,
worth your affection
this time…
O If only boozers
weren’t drawn
to the bottle,
sleeping off
an infinite hang-over.

6.
Enigma

When will all
the trouble end?
He sits idly
on the stone bench,
marking up
the notches of years
in his mind
trying to solve
the puzzle of generation.
There is no solution
in sight,
the rules keep changing
like monsoon air,
& he sees the kids
gamboling in the grass
as if oblivious
of the gods
of cosmic chess
who push without tears
the mortal pieces.

7.
History 101

Ambeth Ocampo, in his Inquirer column “Looking Back” is quoted as saying that Teodoro Agoncillo refused to write about Marcos because he lacked “perspective… historical conditions are not fine… historians cannot say I have exhausted all the documents” – for which Ocampo, with a sense of historical scruple, as it were, intimates that “50 years from now there will be another young historian who will declare that Ambeth Ocampo was an idiot – he did not see this or that document, he did not consider this or that perspective.”

O perish the idea that one can pin down Absolute knowledge for ever! No history, after all, can be concluded in an absolutist way. Perspectives [Agoncillo’s generation steers clear of ideology, which is almost synonymous with their subscription to orthodox objectivity] is enveloped itself within the text whose history is contained as an internal general ideology.

For instance, Agoncillo’s perspective is already foregrounded by his preface to his work, having metaphorically confessed that interference by visitors in his sala of a work is contaminating the purity of his vision [see Neferti Tadiar’s Fantasy-Production]. Or Historicizing as a distilled process? A monologue? In a classicist mode, his text is closely delimited by his very own ideology of seeing unfolded through an ilustrado, something he shares tangentially with Nick Joaquin, anyway.

To conjure that he couldn’t write on anything if he didn’t have all the documents is to confess that his history is insufficient, that he should be an all-seeing eye.

But this is authorial conceit.

Besides, truth is a big word. Christians invest in God as the primary mover of History; atheists see otherwise. It is terrifying chaos for Zizek, the 500-year cycle for Spengler. For modernists, nothing could represent certainty, & we could only settle for the provisional. Truth is the latest layer in the peeling of historical onion, as it were. No one has the last word.

Agoncillo was simply hedging. Worse, he cannot lay his cards on the table & say I am not really sure I’ve written anything at all – to put it ironically. To argue that Marcos may still be beyond historical definition is to subliminally insist that Martial Law wasn’t altogether evil. It had its upside, as in everything else & the dead & the tortured only have themselves to blame for not seeing the light of such momentous decision on September 21. Or that Ninoy’s assassin, given the paucity of documentary proofs, may never be known – & his violent passing a tale that borders on fiction.

Or that Olalia’s murder was an empirical anomaly. Are there documents to be declassified for a truth commission?

It is not that historians may be rebuffed for saying something – it is actually this fear of their vanity & pride being pricked by a new authorial angle that has escaped them, for which their self-appointed authority must suffer.

Historians should know, as necromancers from the ancients to scientists of the contemporary show, all truths are subverted in perpetual revolution: after all, Einstein couldn’t sit tight for Hawkings is hovering in sight. We are all contained by the limits of our period.

To hesitate to write about the past decades is to forever commit oneself to damning silence.

After all, when does one know he has all the documents stacked on his writing table?

8.
Caveat

This is the 21st century
of space stations
& lunar probes
where reason posits
the universe
is a given of mathematical
proofs…
But the preacher man
knows in his guts
that suckers are born
every second
& the world is a circus:
he can gather millions
under a billion-peso roof
for him to piously intone
his stellar ambition,
he’s God’s chosen,
fruit of blind faith,
justice, human ruth.
As in the days of Pizarro
who dropped anchor
opportunely
off Peruvian coast
at a time when the prophecy
the Sun-God would come down
from the sky,
& he became the Holy One,
the Incas surrendered
their machetes & women,
their ancient empire
for venereal diseases
& Catholic chant.
Will history repeat itself?
Friars & penitents
to call the shots,
dazzling in rainbow suits,
having abandoned
the wooden cassocks,
for camouflage power
& official boon?

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